Getting away with it

One thing that working towards a PhD has taught me is that textbooks are of low value in academia.

Of course great textbooks are essential works, but in the end a textbook is not a peer reviewed publication: it’s what you and the publisher think you can get away with.

And, yes, some text books are, in effect, peer reviewed, as they are based on refereed research (so I can now plug my friend Dr Joanne Murphy’s new book – Policing for Peace in Northern Ireland: Change, Conflict and Community Confidence – as I know it is just such a work.)

But the point about lack of peer review was brought home to me this afternoon when, fruitlessly wandering round the York University library looking for a desk, I stumbled on the politics shelves and scanned through Dominic Wring’s The Politics of Marketing the Labour Party: A Century of Stratified Electioneering.

Plaque recording the location of the formation...
Plaque recording the location of the formation of the British Labour Party in 1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now this happens to be about something I know quite a lot about and when it comes to the 1997 election campaign I certainly think I know rather more about it than Dominic Wring – whose book maybe ought to be subtitled “Labour must lose”. Words and phrases such as “authoritarianism” and “hollow populism” and “empty rhetoric” are sprinkled through the pages and no justification offered for such judgements – and this is what suggests to me it lacks any sort of peer review, for clearly a reviewer would demand something more than the author’s political prejudices as a basis on which to make such claims?

Wring is, of course, a member of the Labour Party.

Well, my point is not to tackle Wring’s hatred of New Labour (though it’s a bit much for him to describe the 1996 Littleborough and Saddleworth byelection as turning point as though it marked the start of the decline of Tony Blair – as he subsequently went on to win three general elections), but to highlight the unreliable nature of textbooks. So I’ll stop it there.


One response to “Getting away with it”

  1. This is likely somewhat discipline-specific. I was approached more than once during my teaching days by publishers offering honoraria in exchange for my reviewing either a prospectus and sample chapters (to see if the author had a clue about the subject matter) or to review the full manuscript. In the one instance of the latter that I accepted, I found one or two mathematical errors that the author happily fixed (expressing gratitude that I’d caught them). This was in “management science”, a discipline ruled by mathematics with little room for opinion.

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